Last week, social media was abuzz over a photo of a dress posted to the blogging site Tumblr. While the debate over whether the color of a dress is black and blue or white and gold continues, experts have tried to explain the scientific basis for the color constancy phenomena.
Michael A. Fox, PhD, a developmental neurobiologist who studies the assembly of neural circuits in the developing brain at Virginia Tech, told Healio.com/Psychiatry that the color perception is a “trick” of the brain.
Michael A. Fox
“Whether you perceive the dress as black and blue or white and gold, your retina sees similar colors and sends that information to your brain. To reiterate, whether you are a ‘white-and-golder’ or a ‘black-and-bluer,’ the information your retina sends to your brain is the same (as long as you are not color blind — then you would have a very different perspective on this whole argument),” Fox said.
Fox explained that the information goes to the thalamus which then relays information to the primary visual cortex; the occipital lobe of the cerebral hemispheres. Once it arrives, the information must be interpreted and calculated based on the colors detected by the retina, he said.
“This means that your brain calculates how much of the color is dependent directly on the object viewed and how much of the color cues come from light reflecting off of that object or shadows on that object (or other perturbations which may alter the appearance of the object),” Fox said.
Therefore, what the brain perceives is the color of the object may not be the actual color.
Fox explained that some people process the image of the dress based on the interpretation of the lighting condition when the image was acquired. This dictates the colors perceived by each individual, thereby creating varied responses.
“The context of the image is critically important for color perception, and this is a great example of how individuals may interpret the context of the image differently,” Fox said. “If your brain interprets the image to be of the dress in a shadow, you will likely see the dress as gold and white. If you interpret the dress to be in bright light, you likely will see it as black and blue.” – by Samantha Costa
Disclosure: Fox reports no relevant financial disclosures.